Friday, February 15, 2008

New Phoenix marine reserve dwarfs Hawaiian Papahānaumokuākea

Hawai'i's Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument now has a new southern sister—a whomping big chunk of coral and sea 1,400 miles directly to the south.
(Image courtesy Phoenix Islands Protected Area.)

While the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, just north of the Equator, is somewhat larger than Papahānaumokuākea, and also covers isolated islands and their associated reefs, it is in many ways quite different.

Each is a reserve that was comparatively simple for the decision-makers to produce, largely because there weren't many vested interests there. Both are made of up largely of uninhabited islands and a lot of remote ocean. The primary economic interest in each has been fishing.

But while the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are subtropical and distinctly isolated, the Phoenix group is tropical and in a piece of ocean with many nearby groups of islands—the Line Islands to the east and northeast, the Gilberts to the west, and the Cook Islands and Samoa to the south.

Papahānaumokuākea was established by President George Bush June 15, 2006, reputedly at the urging of his wife, Laura. It created a new management overlay of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which were already protected as state and federal wildlife reserves. The 10 islands and reefs of the monument stretch from Nihoa Island beyond Kaua'i to Kure Atoll, more than 1,000 miles to the northwest.

The Phoenix Islands reserve is an expansion of a previously announced refuge, and one might be forgiven for suspecting that its size was selected specifically so the financially challenged Pacific nation of Kiribati—formerly the Gilbert Islands—would be able to claim the title of the world's largest marine reserve.

Phoenix, whose boundaries enclose 164,000 square miles, is bigger than the two previous record-holders—Australia's Great Barrier Reef (135,000 square miles) and Papahānaumokuākea (140,000 square miles). (An earlier layout was smaller, and the reserve website's fact sheet still calls it the third-largest marine protected area in the world, after the Australian and Hawaiian reserves.)

One issue for Phoenix is that Kiribati admits it can't afford to manage a marine reserve of anywhere near that size.

Its lone patrol boat was donated by Australia, and the nation said it hopes Australia and New Zealand will provide aerial overflights for surveillance of its huge reserve.

Kiribati also immediately announced it is accepting donations to establish a $100 million trust fund. It would be used to help cover the cost of running its big refuge—and to reimburse the nation for the money it will actually lose by canceling fishing licenses in the Phoenix area.

Two United States organization, Conservation International and the New England Aquarium, assisted in setting up the protected area and will help manage it.

"Kiribati has taken an inspirational step in increasing the size of [the protected area] well beyond the original eight atolls and globally important seabird, fish and coral reef communities," said New England Aquarium vice president of global programs Greg Stone, in a press release.

The atolls in the reserve include Kanton or Abariringa Island, Enderbury Island, Rawaki or Phoenix Island, Birnie Island, McKean Island, Orona or Hull Island, Manra or Sydney Island and Nikumaroro or Gardner Island.

Several of the island have been inhabited in the past. Only Kanton Island is currently inhabited. Nikumaroro has some fame in part because it is one of the places where the famed missing aviator Amelia Earhart is reputed to have ended up. The protected area will also include both Winslow and Carondelet reefs.

The protected area has been proposed as a World Heritage Site.

The new boundaries contain an amazing natural community. The site claims 120 species of corals and 520 species of fish. Doubtless further scientific surveys will expand those numbers. Massive fleets of birds nest on the atolls. The reserve also contains significant amounts of deep sea habitat.

For more information see (It includes information on the search for Earhart.)

© 2007 Jan W. TenBruggencate